This gentle plant does no evil, but instead great good! (Photo by Michael Fischer from Pexels)

Except for the last century, cannabis sativa has been considered a sacred plant by many cultures over the centuries, with most societies having regularly used and appreciated it for multiple medicinal reasons. Recent history, in conjunction with a torrent of false propaganda directed at the American public, attempted but failed to erase the 12,000 year history of the beneficial effects this healing plant has bestowed upon the human race.

A Long, Impressive, and Therapeutic History

Cannabis is now known by its Latin term, cannabis sativa, which was so named in 1548 in the herbal catalogue entitled “The Names of Herbes” by William Turner. “Sativa” is derived from the Latin botanical adjective “sativum” which means cultivated, indicating its presence and use in Europe during the Renaissance.

However, its history extends easily 10,000 years earlier than when 16th-century Europeans had incorporated it into their own culture so deeply that it was included in a book on herbs. The earliest known recorded use of cannabis by humans occurred in the Central Asian region, most likely in the region where Siberia and Mongolia are found today. It was a popular crop, along with other staple grains like barley, wild wheats, lentils, and grass peas.

By 2000 BC, two thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ, cannabis had made its appearance as far west as modern-day Germany, was well established in Turkey, and had also spread throughout India, China, Japan, and Korea.

Three hundred fifty years before the publication of “The Names of Herbes,” in 1200 AD, this important and valuable plant had made its presence known as far north as England, as far south as the northern region of Africa, and pretty much throughout southern Asia. It didn’t even reach the Americas until the 17th century, first arriving in the Caribbeans and South America. 

Rather ironically, North America was the last major society to be introduced to cannabis sativa, by Mexicans fleeing the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and 1911. Unfortunately, racism in America was still rampant and cannabis sativa was rechristened “marijuana” to give it a “Mexican” connotation; coupled with this new name were a slew of false and alarming rumors designed to turn Americans against incoming Mexicans (and subconsciously against cannabis sativa as an innocent bystander).

One hundred years later, the blind injustice and unnecessary time, effort, and misery has cost us much and has proven nothing beyond our stubborn foolishness. In a 2013 report, the ACLU estimated that the cost of enforcing marijuana laws in the United States ran more than $3.5 billion per year, without diminishing its availability or use. Fortunately, America and the world is finally waking up and realizing the important and sometimes life saving qualities which we are discovering through two important properties found in cannabis sativa: THC and CBD.

Cannabis and Its Medicinal Properties

Admittedly, as with any other natural medicine, original claims for cannabis were anecdotal. There is evidence that cannabis sativa was used in both sacred rituals and as medical treatments. Even before the advent of modern science, societies through every era of human development appreciated and took advantage of its healing properties, including:

  • Ancient China used it as an anesthetic during surgery
  • Ancient Indian cultures counted cannabis as one of its “five kingdoms of herbs”
  • Early Vikings used cannabis for ropes and textiles, and likely as a pain reliever
  • Medieval Germans used cannabis to relieve labor pains and toothaches

In ancient China, cannabis as a medicine was called “ma” and was especially known for its unusual capacity to contain both feminine (yin) and masculine (yang) properties. After studying the therapeutic and curative results of cannabis, the Chinese learned the feminine plants produced more medicine than the male and turned their focus to cultivating the female plants for efficacious medical treatments and cures. 

Their appreciation and use of cannabis became so sophisticated that in the 2nd century AD, the famed Chinese surgeon Hua T’o concocted an elixir which combined cannabis resin and wine. The resulting medicine, ma-yo, was used to alleviate pain for different types of surgeries and treatments such as:

  • Chest Incisions
  • Intestinal Resectioning
  • Loin Incisions
  • Organ Drafts

Over the years, in addition to being a valuable commodity for textiles and ropes, and its medical values, people also discovered the psychotropic properties of cannabis sativa and would often use this plant for recreational relaxation and pleasure, making it a truly multi-talented and -beneficial herb seemingly perfectly suited to the human race.

CBD and Humans: A Marriage Made in Nature

Of the two valuable healing molecules produced by cannabis sativa, CBD quickly gained greater attention and popularity. This is because CBD does not contain any psychotropic properties and therefore does not make the consumer “high” in comparison to its counterpart, THC. This important fact and difference gave CBD an early head start in scientific studies and trials, since the legalization hurdle was easy to clear.

Even then, getting government approval to perform medical trials wasn’t easy. The first tentative investigation into the medical powers of cannabis was in the 1970s, when studies were performed with patients suffering with glaucoma, a degenerative eye disease often resulting in complete blindness. In fact, credit Robert Randall, a 27-year-old American who suffered from glaucoma for clearing the first legal hurdle: after being arrested for growing cannabis, he won his case in federal court  and proved his use of “marijuana” constituted a medical necessity.

This incident opened the gateways to ever more studies of the possible health benefits related to the consumption of cannabis or hemp (the legal definition of hemp is any cannabis sativa plant containing less than 0.3% THC by dry weight; in comparison, a cultivated female plant may contain as much as 30% THC content). When scientists isolated and differentiated the two molecules, CBD and THC, and learned that CBD was rich in potential health benefits and curatives, the focus shifted sharply for obvious legal reasons. Fortunately, during this period there were still plenty of advocates for the full legalization of cannabis, insistent that THC offered medical advantages equal to, yet different from, CBD. (Of course, hindsight proved these enthusiasts were not just stoned, but correct in their assertions that both molecules contain curative properties.)

The first, tentative but positive, step in the right direction occurred in 1996 when the state of California legalized the purchase and consumption of cannabis sativa (with THC) for medical purposes. Other states watched with great interest and anticipation and, upon seeing the highly positive and profitable results experienced in California, more states soon joined the bandwagon and also became Medical Marijuana states (thus, sadly, perpetuating the “marijuana” racial slur for a universally accepted and consumed herb – Clinical Cannabis would have been an infinitely better term to adopt).

These slow but certain steps in the proper direction have opened many new and unexpected doors of discovery. Perhaps the most revealing insight involved understanding the intrinsic relationship of THC and CBD to the endocannabinoid system in the human body. Our endocannabinoid system is composed of cannabinoid receptors strategically placed throughout the central nervous system and in the brain. Its job is to interact with incoming cannabinoids which are delivered courtesy of cannabis as both THC and CBD. 

There is still much to learn, but already differences between how THC and CBD interact with our cannabinoid receptors are being discovered. It appears that THC is more effective in binding to our receptors, which may account for the more noticeable and dramatic effects that THC has for most people. Some researchers believe that because CBD does not bind to our cannabinoid receptors in the same way as THC, that CBD may help prevent the breakdown of our endocannabinoids; others think it binds to a receptor as yet undiscovered. Clearly much exciting work lies immediately ahead, throwing a positive light on an increasingly bright future for fully tapping into the medicinal advantages this modest yet enduring plant offers the human race.

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